Reflections on Tuesday’s Elections

Let’s start with the positives: I’m pleased with the outcomes of most of the races. I’m glad Charlie Crist will face Rick Scott for governor and that George Sheldon will face Pam Bondi for attorney general in November. There are substantive issues at stake and an opportunity for important community dialog and debate.

I’m thrilled and relieved that Roy Terry was re-elected to the School Board. The alternative, though a real possibility, was unthinkable. Depending of the outcome of the District 3 election in November, Mr. Terry could be an important mediator between Board members with very different points of view in Board decisions for the next four years.

Though I don’t live in County Commission District 4 and couldn’t vote in that election, I’m glad Penny Taylor won that race. I’m hopeful this will maintain the current ideological balance on the Commission, especially in terms of impact fees and the growth management philosophy of growth paying for growth, which I support.

And I’m glad that each of the three candidates I voted for in the judicial races was elected.

But I am very disappointed and concerned about the outcomes of the races for School Board Districts 1 and 3. As I’ve written and explained in prior posts, I supported Kathleen Greenawalt and Luis Bernal for those positions.

And I am dismayed at the voter turnout and the number of under-votes in the various races. Those are the specific election outcomes I want to look at in this post.

When it comes to citizen engagement in the political process, I look at three metrics:

  • Voter registration – the percent of people eligible to vote who are registered to vote
  • Voter turnout – the percent of registered voters who actually submit a ballot for an election, whether by mail, early vote, or on election day
  • Under-votes – the difference between the number of ballots cast in an election and the number of votes cast in a particular race

An under-vote occurs when a voter votes on less than all of the races for which she/he is eligible to vote. This could happen either because a voter doesn’t see the contest on the ballot, or because the voter chose not to vote for any candidate for that contest, either because she/he doesn’t want to make an uneducated choice or because she/he doesn’t like any of the candidates.

I’ve been told by what I believe are knowledgeable sources that Collier County doesn’t have a voter registration problem. (If anyone has data or a reference on this, please let me know.) While there are no doubt pockets of the county where we could find eligible people to register, that’s not where we need to spend our time and energy.

What we have is a voter turnout problem and, in this election in particular, an under-vote problem.

In terms of voter turnout, only 21 percent of the County’s registered voters (38,774 out of 185,016) cast a ballot. Four out of five registered voters couldn’t be bothered. I find this appalling.

By party affiliation, the Democrats were far worse than the Republicans.

Voter Turnout by Party Affiliation

How many of our snowbirds took the trouble to request and vote a mail ballot?

In terms of under-votes, a full 15 percent of Democrats who voted for a candidate for governor didn’t vote for one of the attorney general candidates.

Democratic Attorney General Primary Under-votes

The School Board and judicial races were nonpartisan and county-wide. Registered voters could vote in those six races regardless of their party affiliation or where in the county they live. And yet look at these numbers:

Judicial Races – Under-Votes

School Board Races – Under-Votes

Only one in five of the one in five who bothered to vote at all voted in the judicial races, and only slightly more voted in the School Board races.

Thousands of our fellow community members who took the trouble to vote for SOMEONE didn’t vote in these races.

There are many reasons for this. Some people who are busy with their daily lives say they don’t have the time or the energy to vote.

Some are uninformed. I was told that someone who doesn’t have children in the public schools didn’t realize they are entitled to vote for School Board.

Some people just don’t care.

We have to do something about this.

To start, I ask each of you to identify someone you know who didn’t vote and find out why. Explain to her or him what YOU think is at stake, and why YOU think THEIR vote is important.

Make it personal.

If we work together, one neighbor at a time, maybe we can build a more informed, engaged community between now and the November elections.

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